Friday, June 6, 2014

BayCon 2014 Recap

This was the first year that I volunteered to participate in the BayCon Writers Workshop. My group was scheduled for Saturday, May 24, from 2:00-5:00pm. I had three stories to critique, so I set aside the weekdays prior to BayCon to read -- and reread -- mark up, and then critique the three stories.

The other "Pros" in my workshop group were Jennifer Carson and Candy Lowe; the three "Writer Participants" were Dana Ardis ("Whetstone"), Susan Mittmann ("Perceiving Gabi"), and Francesco Radicati ("A Fistful of Brifgars").

I understand that the BayCon Writers Workshop follows the Clarion format, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with said format. Each of the three writers was critiqued by the five other workshop participants. We had three minutes apiece, I believe, to provide feedback to the respective writer. That means each writer had to listen to input for fifteen minutes (and from five different people) before responding. Fifteen minutes yields a lot of input. If the writer jots down notes, then the note-taking process interferes with the ongoing critique: one cannot write down what has just been said, or a question in response to what has just been said, and listen to new input at the same time. Fifteen minutes of input is simply overwhelming. Regardless, that is the process, and a writer who participates in the BayCon Writers Workshop must work with it.

The story "A Fistful of Brifgars" by Francesco Radicati was a takeoff, an homage, of the movie A Fistful of Dollars. A delightful story with a surprise ending. Our review of the story yielded a couple of specific improvements that would have given it a rock-solid plot, at which point we felt the story could be submitted for publication. Unfortunately, Francesco had already sent out the story to every print and online magazine we suggested, and the story had been rejected by all of them. (Remember, this was prior to our suggested improvements.) Francesco will now have to dig a bit deeper into second- and even third-tier venues in his effort to have this story published. The lesson learned here? If you are going to have a story critiqued -- workshopped -- do it before you submit the story for publication, not after. Of course, the caveat is that you may not realize the story needs work before you send it out. In that case, once the story has been rejected by two, or even three venues, consider that it might need some rework before sending it out to every venue you can think of.

The fifteen-minute critiquing format aside, the workshop was both an enjoyable experience as well as a learning experience for me and I would be willing to participate again next year, if they'll have me.

Before going any further, I need to give a shout out to the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara Hotel. When I reserve a hotel room, I specifically request a quiet room as well as a feather-free room. I can handle a feather comforter, but I have to avoid feather pillows, otherwise I will experience breathing difficulties throughout the night. So, when I first enter a hotel room, the first thing I do is check the pillows to make sure they are foam, and not feather. Unfortunately, this time around, I neglected to perform that critical check. We (my wife Diane and I) checked in around 11:00am on Saturday, and once in the room immediately unpacked and then prepared to meet someone for lunch (more on this in a bit). We were just about ready to leave the room when the phone rang: the front desk had called. Evidently the staff person realized I had checked in early and the room still had feather pillows and blanket. I requested that just the pillows need to be swapped out and before we had left the room for lunch, housekeeping had shown up to remove the feather pillows. Had the front desk not caught my negligence, I probably wouldn't have discovered the feather pillows until late that night when we were readying for bed, and I would have had to deal with getting foam pillow replacements from the hotel's night shift. So, thank you Hyatt Regency for being aware of your guests' special requests.

My other shout out goes to the staff of the TusCA Restaurant, located within the hotel. I will admit it, I am a chocolate freak. When I travel, I typically take some chocolate with me; but this time I forgot. By Sunday afternoon Diane and I were both craving chocolate, and there was none to be found. So we planned to have some chocolate dessert after dinner. Unfortunately, the dessert menu only had a couple items with a chocolate sauce; we wanted chocolate! When the waiter (my apologies but I do not recall his name) (I seem to be forgetting a lot lately...hmm....) returned to our table for our dessert order, I explained the problem -- chocolate sauce, but no actual chocolate dessert. He said that he just may be able to get us a slice of chocolate cake: Would that do? YES! And, of course, he returned a short while later with a huge, and wonderful, slice of chocolate cake, which Diane and I shared. (Actually, I think she took a couple bites and said enough, and I ate all the rest; remember, I'm the chocolate freak.) Now the waiter could have said something like, I'm sorry that we don't have the dessert you want; I'll bring you your check. But he made the extra effort, which was the icing -- literally and figuratively -- on an excellent meal.

As an aside, the Hyatt Regency provides free parking for all of its guests (and convention attendees) with a fairly large parking area in front of the hotel and a three-level (or is it four?) parking structure in the back. My concern for future BayCons: Will this parking remain free once the new San Francisco 49ers stadium opens in August?

I also want to take this opportunity to offer kudos to the convention staff for putting together one of the best BayCons in years. I don't have access to the numbers, but it appeared, at least to me, that there were more people in attendance than in recent years. If so, then I have to believe that choosing David Weber as the Writer Guest of Honor had a lot to do with that increase in attendance, as his appearance at the con no doubt brought in a large contingent of military SF readers and fans. Having the St. Michael's Salle d'Armes members on hand, performing fencing demonstrations, and acting out fight scenes from published novels, was an added plus. I'm hoping BayCon 2015 will be just as successful, with Writer GOH Seanan McGuire and Artist GOH Julie Dillon. (You'll see Julie Dillon's name again in a forthcoming blog post here.)

Back in March, I signed an agreement with author Matt Maxwell to review, critique, and mark up his 115,000-word novel Blue Highway. Matt and I had first crossed paths, albeit briefly, at WesterCon 66 in Sacramento last July. Since he was planning to attend BayCon as well, I set aside the necessary time, and made the effort to complete the manuscript in time to be able to hand it off to him at the convention. But before we met to discuss business, I wanted us to have an opportunity to simply get to know one another first. So, we arranged to meet for lunch at noon on Saturday. We snagged a table after a short wait in the Evolution Café (just off the lobby area), and over various sandwiches, we chatted about writing, movies, architecture, families, and more. Matt and I then arranged to meet (just the two of us this time, no Diane) in the lobby at 2:00pm the following day, Sunday, to review the manuscript.

On Sunday afternoon, Matt and I met in the lobby at the specified time, and then sought out an empty table at which to sit and work on the second-floor mezzanine. I reviewed the copy editing symbols I use to insure that Matt understood my markups; I discussed some content issues that I had found; and then I reviewed the overall manuscript. Lastly, I shared with Matt the plot questions/issues that I had upon completing the novel. All of these questions were actually in sync with Matt's intentions in Blue Highway as this was to be the first volume in a trilogy. Matt has published his own comics, game-related projects, and short stories, but I believe this is his first novel. But don't let that stop you from adding the name Matt Maxwell to your list of authors to watch. Here's the opening paragraph to Chapter 11: [Note: Authors always share the opening chapter to their novels. Why? Because Chapter 1 is the most worked/reworked chapter in the entire book. But, will the rest of the book reflect the same quality of prose, stand up to the same scrutiny?]
New Saigon was built like a house of cards too tall for its own good, ready to topple in a stiff wind, raining jokers all the way. Tall spires needled from the tops of the apartment towers and impaled the perfect blue sky. Pennants and banners made up a fragmented rainbow that rippled in the breeze lazing off the nearby Pacific. The skyline was a bizarre juxtaposition of Khmeresque towers and sterile ultra-modernity. Detail and crenellation and ornament staring down blank and featureless curves lined with mirrored carbon glass. There was no continuity, just leaps in style from the florid and exotic to suggestive flatness and back again.
And that is a brief introduction to Blue Highway's New Saigon.

Saturday evening, around 7:00pm, Diane and I met up with Amy Sterling Casil for dinner at the TusCA Restaurant. Amy has launched a new publishing venture -- Chameleon Publishing -- and since we have spoken about my involvement in the press, I wanted to learn more about Amy's publishing philosophy, the authors whom she will be initially publishing, etc. I think Amy spent more time talking than she did eating, which is unfortunate because the TusCA food is always excellent. Diane and I each had a mini Margarita Pizza, while Amy chose the dinner buffet. Chameleon Publishing will be showcasing some top authors when those first books start hitting the shelves, both real and virtual -- but since I'm not sure how much of this is public knowledge, I'll refrain from mentioning any of those names for now. I'm looking forward to this future opportunity, and I will definitely post here when opportunity becomes reality.

And what would a science fiction & fantasy convention be without panels, and panels, and more panels. Though I participated in two other panels, and attended a few others, I'm going to use this remaining time (The meter is still running, right?) to focus on only one: "How to Develop Your Marketing as an Author." Aside from yours truly, the other panelists included Kyle Aisteach, A. E. Marling, and Tony N. Todaro, the panel moderator. Kyle and Tony and I have shared many a panel in the past; and A. E. Marling and I have now met and shared a panel as well.

Authorial self-promotion is sort of like chocolate: you gotta have some every day. This panel was an hour and fifteen minutes in length, and could easily have run another half hour or more. I had hoped to talk about the special (what I believe to be unique) promotional project I undertook for the publication of my Alien Contact anthology, which is why I signed up to participate on this panel. Sadly, even at one and a quarter hours, there was insufficient time for me to even mention the project. [You can read about it here.] However we did learn everything (and more) that there is to know about the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (and its various writers conferences), of which Tony is the president. Kyle spoke briefly about his many pseudonyms and the problems this presents for self-promotion. [Note to BayCon and other cons: How about a panel on "Pseudonyms and Self-promotion/Marketing" -- and please make sure all the panelists have published under pseudonyms.] A. E. Marling has self-published a number of fantasy titles and was able to share his hands-on experiences with these titles.

Bottom line: I encourage all new, novice, and/or self-publishing authors to seek out these types of panels and attend them as often as possible. We see how quickly social media can change. Self-promotion/marketing opportunities and resources for authors change just as quickly. And an open forum such as this panel at an SF/F convention can provide a myriad of ideas, resources, connections, etc. For example, did you know: If you have a Goodreads account, you can sign up for the "Author Program" to promote yourself and your books. As part of the sign-up process, you can link your blog to your Goodreads profile. When you publish a blog post, it gets posted to your Goodreads profile as well.

Hopefully, if all goes well, I'll see you next year at BayCon 2015.

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